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Coal Scuttled

Stuart White

Listening to the regional news from RSA this week it was clear that the mining sector down there, already at odds with mining unions who have virtually declared war on management in some operations, is headed for a major crisis.

The current clash has now seen the Minister of Mineral Resources Mr Ngoako Ramatlhodi, climbing in to the centre of a retrenchment programme announced by international mining giant Glencore in one of its South African subsidiaries, Optimum Coal Holdings, telling management that they should have looked at alternatives to retrenchments, including shifting workers to vacancies in other operations, before considering the potential retrenchment of about 1 000 workers. 

Speaking at an emergency meeting on Wednesday to curb the job losses in the local mining industry he went on to level an accusation at the coal mining body that the possible retrenchments would be "inhumane" and that it was not following legal procedure.  For this reason, he stated, he had revoked the mining licence for the Optimum Coal operation on Tuesday, a decision he claimed had not been taken lightly. 

Ramatlhodi noted that Glencore should have explored voluntary retrenchments, particularly with regard to older employees, who were due for retirement. “We are looking at rehabilitation to absorb some miners who might be retrenched from the direct operations,” he said, throwing down the gauntlet to the mine management and the mining union in general.

The whole of the South African mining sector is what might be described as a fine kettle of fish right now, hit, as it has been, by depressed worldwide mineral prices, demands from increasingly militant unions and last but not least, unreliable power supply and frequent outages from Eskom. 

And of course, therein lies the ultimate irony that it is a lack of basic resources, principally coal, which has contributed to Eskom’s poor performance and inability to maintain electricity supplies so presumably any coal mine closures would only add to the problem in a classic chicken and egg impasse.

However, by taking the line he has done, effectively the Minister has nailed his colours to the wall as being firmly on the side of the blue-collar workforce where a degree of impartiality might better have been called for. 

Clearly he is not uninformed of the current industry situation yet it would appear that he is urging a private company to maintain staff numbers at an uneconomical level, setting state and private sector on opposite sides in an impending war of attrition. And by doing so he has inadvertently shone the spotlight on one of biggest differences between government and private employment practices.

How often do you hear of new companies being formed, new ventures being undertaken where some PR spin doctor gushingly tries  to make it sound like charity and benevolence on the part of the investors and management, most often with the use of the tired old lie ‘job creation’? 

I say ‘lie’ because the creation of jobs is a by-product of any new enterprise, not its raison d’être.  No private sector venture forks out shed-loads of venture or investment capital with a view to creating jobs – they spend money to make money and if workers are needed to achieve that goal, so be it – some job vacancies will open up but only through necessity, not through any misplaced altruism. 

It is only governments who truly ‘create jobs’, it being their function to build bureaucracies and expand national infrastructure and production, without recourse to profit-making or bottom lines.

And just as the private sector employs people to keep a company running efficiently and profitably, it being in their best interest to fairly reward its workforce and offer enticements to retain its top talent, the opposite is true in government work where employment contracts usually build in a promise of a job for life and where productivity is not the overriding factor. 

But of course, the opposite is equally true.  When a company’s profitability drops, the first savings to be made are often in staff numbers, the wage bill being the biggest monthly output of almost any organisation, large or small. 

This is referred to euphemistically as ‘down-sizing’ or retrenchment, an attempt to gloss over the fact that it almost always implies that the company is in serious trouble and no matter what anyone, including government ministers, might think, it is never an easy decision. 

No company really wants to shrink and be seen to be shrinking – it is a sign of weakness and failure but sometimes, it is the only option.  And often-times it is done in the hope that it will assist in a slow upturn and at some time in the future there may be re-hiring’s and even expansion. 

It is a necessary evil.  Nobody likes it, nobody wants to see good workers being let go but common-sense says that no company can afford to keep people on and keep paying them when the coffers are emptying faster than they can be filled.

So this is not a problem confined to any particular industry or country.  Nor does it necessarily bode ill for our own mining sector on which our economy is so dependent since the diamond industry is still buoyant, it is conducted by a private and state joint venture and Botswana is so far untroubled by union militancy. 

The above were more general comments on the area of corporate retrenchment and the disconnect that always seems to colour such situations, whereby the workers feel hard done-by and convinced that management just want two pounds of work from every pound of flesh and management wishes it could explain the cold, hard, economic facts without putting the fear of God into customers and stakeholders and giving away too much insider info to the gloating competition.  It is a virtual minefield at the best of times, only in this particular instance it literally is also a mine field!

STUART WHITE is the Managing Director of HRMC and they can be reached on 395 1640 or at

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The Daring Dozen at Bari

8th December 2020

Seventy-seven years ago, on the evening of December 2, 1943, the Germans launched a surprise air raid on allied shipping in the Italian port of Bari, which was then the key supply centre for the British 8th army’s advance in Italy.

The attack was spearheaded by 105 Junkers JU88 bombers under the overall command of the infamous Air Marshal Wolfram von Richthofen (who had initially achieved international notoriety during the Spanish Civil War for his aerial bombardment of Guernica). In a little over an hour the German aircraft succeeded in sinking 28 transport and cargo ships, while further inflicting massive damage to the harbour’s facilities, resulting in the port being effectively put out of action for two months.

Over two thousand ground personnel were killed during the raid, with the release of a secret supply of mustard gas aboard one of the destroyed ships contributing to the death toll, as well as subsequent military and civilian casualties. The extent of the later is a controversy due to the fact that the American and British governments subsequently covered up the presence of the gas for decades.

At least five Batswana were killed and seven critically wounded during the raid, with one of the wounded being miraculously rescued floating unconscious out to sea with a head wound. He had been given up for dead when he returned to his unit fourteen days later. The fatalities and casualties all occurred when the enemy hit an ammunition ship adjacent to where 24 Batswana members of the African Pioneer Corps (APC) 1979 Smoke Company where posted.

Thereafter, the dozen surviving members of the unit distinguished themselves for their efficiency in putting up and maintaining smokescreens in their sector, which was credited with saving additional shipping. For his personal heroism in rallying his men following the initial explosions Company Corporal Chitu Bakombi was awarded the British Empire Medal, while his superior officer, Lieutenant N.F. Moor was later given an M.B.E.

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A Strong Marriage Bond Needs Two

8th December 2020

Remember: bricks and cement are used to build a house, but mutual love, respect and companionship are used to build a HOME. And amongst His signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind, so that you may find contentment (Sukoon) with them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you; in this behold, there are signs (messages) indeed for people who reflect and think (Quran 30:21).

This verse talks about contentment; this implies companionship, of their being together, sharing together, supporting one another and creating a home of peace. This verse also talks about love between them; this love is both physical and emotional. For love to exist it must be built on the foundation of a mutually supportive relationship guided by respect and tenderness. As the Quran says; ‘they are like garments for you, and you are garments for them (Quran 2:187)’. That means spouses should provide each other with comfort, intimacy and protection just as clothing protects, warms and dignifies the body.

In Islam marriage is considered an ‘ibaadah’, (an act of pleasing Allah) because it is about a commitment made to each other, that is built on mutual love, interdependence, integrity, trust, respect, companionship and harmony towards each other. It is about building of a home on an Islamic foundation in which peace and tranquillity reigns wherein your offspring are raised in an atmosphere conducive to a moral and upright upbringing so that when we all stand before Him (Allah) on that Promised Day, He will be pleased with them all.

Most marriages start out with great hopes and rosy dreams; spouses are truly committed to making their marriages work. However, as the pressures of life mount, many marriages change over time and it is quite common for some of them to run into problems and start to flounder as the reality of living with a spouse that does not meet with one’s pre-conceived ‘expectations’. However, with hard work and dedication, couples can keep their marriages strong and enjoyable. How is it done? What does it take to create a long-lasting, satisfying marriage?

Below are some of the points that have been taken from a marriage guidance article I read recently and adapted for this purposes.

Spouses should have far more positive than negative interactions. If there is too much negativity — criticizing, demanding, name-calling, holding grudges, etc. — the relationship will suffer. However, if there is never any negativity, it probably means that frustrations and grievances are not getting ‘air time’ and unresolved tension is accumulating inside one or both partners waiting to ‘explode’ one day.

“Let not some men among you laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor let some women laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames.” (49:11)

We all have our individual faults though we may not see them nor want to admit to them but we will easily identify them in others. The key is balance between the two extremes and being supportive of one another. To foster positivity in a marriage that help make them stable and happy, being affectionate, truly listening to each other, taking joy in each other’s achievements and being playful are just a few examples of positive interactions.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are best to their wives”


Another characteristic of happy marriages is empathy; understanding your spouses’ perspective by putting oneself in his or her shoes. By showing that understanding and identifying with your spouse is important for relationship satisfaction. Spouses are more likely to feel good about their marriage and if their partner expresses empathy towards them. Husbands and wives are more content in their relationships when they feel that their partners understand their thoughts and feelings.

Successful married couples grow with each other; it simply isn’t wise to put any person in charge of your happiness. You must be happy with yourself before anyone else can be.  You are responsible for your actions, your attitudes and your happiness. Your spouse just enhances those things in your life. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.”


Successful marriages involve both spouses’ commitment to the relationship. The married couple should learn the art of compromise and this usually takes years. The largest parts of compromise are openness to the other’s point of view and good communication when differences arise.

When two people are truly dedicated to making their marriage work, despite the unavoidable challenges and obstacles that come, they are much more likely to have a relationship that lasts. Husbands and wives who only focus on themselves and their own desires are not as likely to find joy and satisfaction in their relationships.


Another basic need in a relationship is each partner wants to feel valued and respected. When people feel that their spouses truly accept them for who they are, they are usually more secure and confident in their relationships. Often, there is conflict in marriage because partners cannot accept the individual preferences of their spouses and try to demand change from one another. When one person tries to force change from another, he or she is usually met with resistance.

However, change is much more likely to occur when spouses respect differences and accept each other unconditionally. Basic acceptance is vital to a happy marriage. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them.”
“Overlook (any human faults) with gracious forgiveness.” (Quran 15:85)


Other important components of successful marriages are love, compassion and respect for each other. The fact is, as time passes and life becomes increasingly complicated, the marriage is often stressed and suffers as a result. A happy and successful marriage is based on equality. When one or the other dominates strongly, intimacy is replaced by fear of displeasing.

It is all too easy for spouses to lose touch with each other and neglect the love and romance that once came so easily. It is vital that husbands and wives continue to cultivate love and respect for each other throughout their lives. If they do, it is highly likely that their relationships will remain happy and satisfying. Move beyond the fantasy and unrealistic expectations and realize that marriage is about making a conscious choice to love and care for your spouse-even when you do not feel like it.

Seldom can one love someone for whom we have no respect. This also means that we have to learn to overlook and forgive the mistakes of one’s partner. In other words write the good about your partner in stone and the bad in dust, so that when the wind comes it blows away the bad and only the good remains.

Paramount of all, marriage must be based on the teachings of the Noble Qur’an and the teachings and guidance of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). To grow spiritually in your marriage requires that you learn to be less selfish and more loving, even during times of conflict. A marriage needs love, support, tolerance, honesty, respect, humility, realistic expectations and a sense of humour to be successful.

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Chronic Joblessness: How to Help Curtail it

30th November 2020
Motswana woman

The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.

It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.

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